Tips for New Tech

By Robert Minardi

New technologies are great. They can open your lab up to new markets and revitalize your business. They can also provide your employees with new skill sets and opportunities to excel.

The question is: How do you incorporate new technology with as little pain as possible?

It’s all fun and games working out your projected profits and reading shiny brochures, but what do you do once the equipment has been ordered? The truth is, many labs or offices postpone incorporating new technology because they’re worried about the potential hassle it will cause them. They worry about how it will disrupt their current production efficiency and processes. While you always want to maintain a healthy level of anxiety about taking on new technology, you shouldn’t fear it.

Here are some guidelines for making your next technology upgrade as smooth as possible. I will mostly reference a freeform install, but the guidelines can be used for anything.

Legwork, First

First, we need to assume that you’ve done all the necessary legwork before deciding any new equipment is right for you and your lab.

Ideally, you’ve visited, or at least spoken to, labs that are using the exact equipment you’re going to purchase to get a “real-world” evaluation of the product from your peers. You don’t want to procure equipment only to find out that the specific model you’re acquiring has issues or doesn’t mesh well with your current equipment setup.

Assemble a Team

The next step is to get people involved. Generally, you need a group of stakeholders whose responsibility will be the successful installation and implementation of the equipment.

The group should include someone at every level of the command structure. You’ll need someone from upper management, the lab manager, supervisors, leads and the people who will be working with the equipment daily.

The size of the team will usually depend on the amount of equipment you’re purchasing. If you’re installing an entire freeform line from blocker to engraver, you may need more people than if you’re just installing a single generator.

Stakeholders will all be assigned duties. For example, your supervisor and lab manager may coordinate infrastructure upgrades, while the line workers and leads work out the new floorplan. Everyone checks on each other’s progress and everyone’s goal is success.

Infrastructure

If you’ve purchased the equipment and have a scheduled install date, more than likely you’ve already had at least one on-site visit by a manufacturer technician. During these visits, you need to nail down what needs to be done internally to ensure successful installation of the equipment. This usually falls into four main categories. Power, fluids, network and logistics.

Power requirements are based on the manufacturer’s recommendations. Although you may be a wiz with a multimeter, you should have a licensed electrician come in to verify your power situation is robust enough to handle the equipment. They have the experience and familiarity with the local power system to inform you of potential issues. This is crucial because if your power supply can’t handle the new equipment’s load, you may be tripping breakers every five minutes; production will go down the tubes and payroll through the roof.

Fluid requirements are different from machine to machine. Some may only need room temperature tap water, while others require deionized (DI) water or chilled coolant. This is important because, in the case of DI water, for example, you’ll need to find out the lifespan of the DI tanks and set up the appropriate tank change out schedule.

Since you’re purchasing some new technology, you’ll most certainly need it connected to your network. It’s important to have your IT department run the cable and prepare the network well in advance. Also, be sure to contact your LMS provider and let them know the date of your equipment installation. They may need to set someone aside specifically to handle any issues you may have. You don’t want to call them on the day of the install and assume they have someone available. Also, from personal experience, make sure you have all usernames and passwords ready to go for every computer in your building. Sometimes we forget about computers we don’t have to access very often, but trust me, Murphy’s Law says you’ll need to access that dusty black box under the table to complete the install.

The logistics of the physical installation of the equipment is not to be overlooked either. Be sure to get all machine dimensions and plan the exact path the equipment must take to reach its final destination in your building. While it’s easy to slide some equipment out of the way, make sure there’s nothing permanent, like plumbing or structural members in the equipment install path. For larger pieces of equipment, you also have to consider that it will need to be on a forklift to get it into position. You need to find out what type of forklift will be needed and account for the height of the equipment while elevated at least six inches off the floor.

The manufacturer can only tell you what needs to be done, it’s up to you to make sure it all happens by the delivery date. All infrastructure and logistic considerations should be fully completed at least two full weeks before the equipment arrives. Otherwise, you may be stuck with the largest and most expensive paperweight known to man.

Document Everything

The equipment’s new and the technology may be completely foreign to you so you won’t able to spot patterns in performance and breakage for weeks or possibly months. Gathering as much information as possible is crucial for figuring out issues as soon as they arise. Creating logs (see below) for each new piece of equipment may be a bother at first, but will save you a lot of time down the road. ■

Robert Minardi, ABOC, has been in manufacturing for almost 25 years. He’s a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with a background in quality control. 


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May/June LabTalk 2017